How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

As the Cluster Director for the Biztech Group at the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), I am responsible for industry development in frontier digital technologies. I create the conditions so that Singapore industries can thrive in 5G, AI and data, and trust technologies.

My responsibilities span from orchestrating strategic research areas in our universities around these topics, to the adoption of these technologies in our industries. It also includes partnering the industry and educational institutes to nurture talents within the emerging technology space.

These talents will supply our enterprises with the right know-how to leverage these technologies, and our research institutes with the deep competencies to drive next-generation capabilities.

I am also the Chair of SG Women in Tech (SGWIT). As the Chair, I want to encourage women to embark on a tech career and to thrive in tech. We convene cross-company mentorship programmes for women in tech. We have also worked with our partners in the Singapore Computer Society (SCS) to honour amazing women in the Singapore 100 Women in Tech List.

Earlier this year, we launched the Corporate Pledge initiative, where companies pledge to do three things for gender diversity, and/or to help more women/girls in tech. To date, more than 50 companies have come on board. I also work on exposing more girls to tech careers, to encourage them to join the tech sector when they graduate.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

AI is a great enabling technology and has a lot of potential to change the way we live and work for the better. For example, self-driving cars would not be possible without AI. We want AI to be developed in a human-centric way that is safe, fair, robust, and explainable.

One of the most impactful projects I worked on was to examine how we can take Singapore’s Model AI Governance Framework and crystallise it into a Testing Framework to help companies achieve greater transparency around AI systems, through objective assessments.

The vision is to enable measurable tests on the trustworthiness principles encapsulated in the framework, which will provide consumers and stakeholders verifiable proof that the AI functions as claimed. We are currently developing a Minimum Viable Product, and it is important that our tools and frameworks be stress tested to ensure they are easy to implement.

Another impactful project is to grow 5G innovation and commercial adoption in Singapore. 5G promises technological improvements such as higher bandwidth that will make multiple high-resolution streams possible, and low latency that makes immersive virtual reality experiences frictionless. These will unlock many opportunities. We have started planting the seeds to create innovation in 5G.

Through a S$30 million 5G Innovation Grant, my team and I are looking at partnering the industry to trial innovative applications for 5G and turn them into profitable business models. These applications range from making testbeds available to enable frictionless trials, working with telcos to simplify connectivity for innovators, to working with industry players such as hospitals, ports, and media entertainment to imagine what is possible.

We are working towards creating sustainable ways (not just pilots!) in which businesses can tap into the possibilities brought about by 5G. For example, surgeons being able to perform surgery with virtual models of anatomy. As another example, robots and drones can perform search and rescue off our coasts.

There are social and economic benefits that 5G can bring about and it is very exciting to be orchestrating these developments.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021? What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

I think no one expected the Covid-19 pandemic to last this long. 2021 can arguably be considered a more challenging year for employees compared to 2020, as many are experiencing mental fatigue and not getting the respite they would otherwise have if they could travel overseas for vacation.

Amidst these disruptions, an unexpected learning and positive takeaway is that humans are highly adaptive in the way we connect, collaborate, and make lifestyle transitions. I have seen how my colleagues are able to stay motivated and connected with one another despite the lack of face time. Just as technology constantly evolves, so will the concept of work and staff empowerment.

While I would like things to return to “normal” soon, looking back, Covid-19 has spurred positive change. Flexible working environments and culture has lowered some of the barriers to women’s participation in the workforce and allowed them to balance work with family obligations.

We would like to build on this momentum and continue to champion positive change for women tech professionals by getting more companies to opt into the SG Women in Tech Corporate Pledge initiative.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

There has been much talk on Generative AI that enables zero or few-shots learning. For example, GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) developed by OpenAI generates text using algorithms that are pre-trained – the model has already been fed all the data they need to carry out their task.

Specifically, it has been fed around 570GB of text information gathered by crawling the internet, along with other texts selected by OpenAI, including that of Wikipedia. With the wealth of data, GPT-3 can create anything that has a language structure – it can answer questions, write essays, summarise long texts, translate languages, take memos, and even create computer code.

At face value, what Generative AI can do sounds exciting. Imagine being able to use AI to come up with a legal document or policy paper in a matter of minutes. However, I would like to move past the hype and drill down to the technological capabilities of such models (and associated problems), the tech providers that operate in this space, and carve out specific areas of enterprise applications where this technology can bring tangible benefits to Singapore.

What are your priorities for 2022?

There is so much more that needs to be done for our industries to capitalise on the value of 5G, AI & data and trust technologies. These technologies by themselves do not change the equation – they need to be commercially viable for companies to deploy them sustainably.

A non-trivial priority is to ensure that businesses have sufficient knowledge to wade into new technology areas with confidence, and to support solution providers in finding the right product-market fit.

My team and I will be focused on expanding research and development in the aforementioned tech areas to ensure that our research institutes partake in potential game-changers and enable capability transfer between research institutes and enterprises.

We must also provide fertile ground for companies to innovate and experiment, whether that might be through supporting pilot projects or democratising access to emerging tech by creating open testbeds. Beyond facilitating the development of prototypes or minimal viable products, we aim to avail support to enterprises to advance their prototypes or minimal viable products into commercial products that can be deployed and scaled.

Lastly, we will continue to collaborate with our industry partners to publish reports and participate in other activities that will promote awareness of our local tech community and landscape.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

In the tech space, it is often challenging to have a firm grasp of both the technical and business side of things. That is why I am particularly inspired by successful business leaders who have professional roots in science and engineering. For example, Satya Nadella became Microsoft’s CEO in 2014, despite having a more technically-oriented background in software and engineering as opposed to the traditional management background.

There have been moments in my career where I was given a job I was new at, and had to remind myself that these successful individuals whom I have mentioned also had to wade in uncharted waters at some point. We all have something to contribute and bring to the table.

The tech industry is ripe at the moment for scientists and engineers to draw upon their technical expertise to rise to higher ranks.

What gets you up in the morning?

The work at hand is rewarding. Technology will continue to turbocharge Singapore’s growth and development and will transform our economy and society in fundamental and unprecedented ways. Technology even has the potential to ensure a sustainable, livable future in the face of environmental challenges.

I feel that enterprises and industries have only scratched the surface in understanding the impact of technology in the complex theatre of business operations. Together with IMDA, I want to make sure that enterprises here in Singapore are ready and equipped to embrace technological change, to reimagine the boundaries of innovation, and to partner with one another, government and academia and bring about social and economic good.